Saturday, April 28, 2012

Drinking as culture - between sin and pleasure?


It was quite a while ago that I watched the mouse climb the ladder to drink sherry from a glass at the Tio Pepe bodega in Jerez so I thought it was about time to remedy my absence from the bodegas, or wineries, of Spain and pack a few more under my belt. I'm not a big wine drinker but it's such a basic food around here that it seemed sinful not to learn just a little more.

The first venture was a trip to Castilla la Mancha, the largest wine growing area in the World and the stamping ground of Don Quixote, Cervantes' famous knight errant. The visit was one of several available on the extremely well organised Castilla la Mancha tourist website. The trip, for two people, combined the bodega visit, a tasting session, three complimentary bottles of wine, a lunchtime meal plus bed and breakfast with a visit to those famous windmills for 159€. Good value for money we thought and with an excellent little tour explaining the process of wine making for the various varieties and types from start to finish.

Flushed, (is that the right verb?) by our success we talked to the Murcian tourism people in Jumilla about their wine route. The basic idea is that a group of lodgings, bodegas and restaurants work together to offer visitors an experience based around the food and drink of the area. Additionally, from time to time other wine related activities are arranged from book fairs and lectures to plays and music performed at one of the several participating bodegas.

We finally visited just three bodegas. The visit to Casa de la Ermita, on the road that hugs the side of the Sierra del Carche range, cost 5€. For that we got a tour around the vineyards with an explanation of the experimental crops that they are trying, the usual sort of bodega tour which follows the story of the grapes and their juice from harvesting to drinking, a tasting session with five or six wines and, of course, a visit to the shop so we could part with some hard earned cash. The tour was available in English or Spanish.

Back in the centre of Jumilla the old established Bodegas Silvano García tour cost 3€ and was delivered by a young woman who spoke very presentable English and gave an excellent and detailed tour of the bodega followed by the essential tasting session. Their shop is really well organised and included lots of wine related paraphernalia as well as things like local cheese and honey.

My personal favourite though was the trip around the Bodega Pedro Luis Martínez because we were shown around by the Spanish speaking enólogo, basically the man who determines how the wine will taste. He was so enthusiastic about his wine that it enthused us. The tour itself was perhaps, the least informative as it focussed much more on the outcome than on the process so that we passed huge vats that reeked of wine with ne'er an explanation. The tasting there seemed to include the whole range of their wine and the ham and cheese nibbles were first rate too. No charge either.

If you're interested in following our example the Jumilla town website has more information in the section called Ruta del Vino. For the majority of the bodegas you do need to arrange the visit beforehand though for some you can just turn up. If you prefer you can talk directly to the (English speaking) tourist office in Jumilla (tel 968 780 237 ) who will gladly arrange a visit timetable on your behalf.

The Castilla la Mancha site is at www.turismocastillalamancha.com
The Jumilla site is at www.jumilla.org

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